Turmeric – A Spice of Life: All About

Turmeric is an amazing spice, full of culinary, cosmetic and medicinal uses. I use it a lot, adding quite a subtle flavour, but also keeping us nice and healthy.

Turmeric / Tumeric

Turmeric is also called:

Indian Saffron, Tumeric, Yellow Ginger
French:curcuma, saffron des Indes
Burmese:fa nwin
Chinese:wong geung fun
Indian:haldee, haldi, huldee, huldie
Indonesian: kunjit, kunyit
Malay: kunjit
Sinhalese: kaha
Tamil: munjal
: kamin

The plant

Turmeric is a rhizome with bright yellow-orange flesh and a tough brown skin. It has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor with a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger.

It it is best known for its use in many masala (curry) blends, and its common use in Indian cooking. It is usually bought in powder form but the root is sometimes also available from Asian and Indian grocery shops.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. The name derives from the Latin terra merita “meritorious earth” referring to the colour of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment. In many languages turmeric is simply named as “yellow root”.

Its Use

It was sometimes called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange color and has been used throughout history as a condiment, cosmetic, healing remedy and textile dye. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine.

Its colour is fairly indelible – if you are working with fresh turmeric, be careful of your chopping surfaces – if using wood, it might take some time to remove the dye from the wood. However, sunlight will fade it quickly, so if all else fails, put the chopping board out in the sun for a couple of hours.

Its use in the kitchen

Turmeric is extremely strong, and actually gets stronger when cooked. A little goes a long way, so use it carefully and experiment with it. I keep a pot by the stove and include a little (no more than a pinch is needed) in my food each day.

Although its colour is similar to saffron, the culinary uses of the two spices should not be confused and should never ever replace saffron in food dishes. The taste is completely different. (Some recipes will recommend it. Don’t be fooled.)

However, it is wonderful in its own right, and can be used in many different ways.

  • In almost any Indian dish. It is indispensable in many Indian cuisines.
  • It is delicious sprinkled lightly on apples sautéed in butter, on steamed cauliflower, potatoes, on green beans and onions.
  • It complements any recipe that feature lentils.
  • Give salad dressings an orange-yellow hue by adding a pinch of turmeric powder to them.
  • Cut some cauliflower florets in half and healthy sauté with a little turmeric for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
  • It is used to flavour and colour butter, cheese, margarine, mustard, liquor, fruit drinks, cakes, jellies, and fruit dishes.
  • Turmeric is a classic addition to chutneys, pickles, and relishes.
  • Blend with melted butter and drizzle over cooked vegetables, pasta, or potatoes.
  • Make yellow rice to colour compliment your other dishes – add a pinch of turmeric to the water as the rice cooks.

Don’t have any tumeric on hand? Some people say substitute 1 teaspoon dry mustard for 1 teaspoon of turmeric. I have not tried this, but can imagine it might work except in Indian, Asian and maybe Middle Eastern dishes.

Spiritual Significance

It is used in rituals in Hinduism, and as a dye for holy robes as it is natural (e.g. obeying ahimsa principles) and cheap. In fact, its use dates back 4000 years, to the Vedic culture in India where it was used as a culinary spice and also had religious significance.

Still today, a rich red powder used in temples around the world, called Kunkum, is made from turmeric and lime. It is worn by men and women, after puja, as small a dot of kunkum worn on the forehead between the eyebrows, or in the middle of the forehead.

(photo from AFP)

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About Ganga108

Heat in the Kitchen, Cooking with Spirit. Temple junkie, temple builder, temple cleaner. Lover of life, people, cultures, travel. Champion of growth, change and awareness. Taker of photos. Passionate about family. Happy.
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13 Responses to Turmeric – A Spice of Life: All About

  1. We use turmeric in most of the food and considering the health benefits, we must try using it more i suppose…Thanks for the informative post

  2. bee says:

    a pinch of turmeric in warm milk is used as a cold remedy. i hated it. :D

  3. bindiya says:

    Bee I second that, but otherwise there are some Indian foods quite incomplete without it!

  4. VegeYum says:

    bee, I have a sore throat at the moment. I probably should try turmeric and milk, although the thought of it is not especially nice.

  5. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for culling this info in one place.

  6. VegeYum says:

    You’re welcome, Cynthia. It was a real pleasure to put it together.

  7. Aparna says:

    Turmeric is truly one of many “wonderful” spices known to us.
    Two more medicinal uses for turmeric that I know work.
    Fresh turmeric ( Pachcha Manjal in Malayalm/ Tamil) is effective for acne/ pimples, if ground and applied on the affected skin.
    A pinch of turmeric powder ( check that it is pure) applied on cuts is a good antiseptic and heals the wound with very little scarring.

  8. Suganya says:

    Like Bee said, turmeric and milk is a good remedy for cold and irritated throat. My mom adds a crack of black pepper. Cold….gone…

  9. Huh . . . I never knew turmeric looked like that. Perfect timing with this post . . . my hub woke up with a sore throat this morning!


  10. Diane says:

    Is there a way of eating the curcuma root without having it as a curry, but purely as a health regime. And avoiding the yellow teeth and tongue, which i experienced yesterday.

    Hi Diane, If you are experiencing yellow colouring of body parts, you are using too too much. Generally it is used as a spice, so maybe about 2cm of the fresh turmeric or a pinch of turmeric powder is sufficient in curries or any dish.

    And yes, you don’t have to eat curry to enjoy turmeric. Actually, I have turmeric tablets. You can find them at any ayurvedic doctor or store, but i buy mine over the internet.

    Drinking the juice straight could dye your body parts really well! But you can add a little to warm milk, for example. Otherwise, I usually add a pinch to whatever I am cooking if the colour will not spoil the look of the dish. With rice it is great. Over potatoes. In with beans and lentils. Anywhere you can put it, do so. You can also make a tumeric and ginger tea – they go well together:

    2 cups water
    1/2 teaspoon Ginger
    1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
    1 tablespoon Honey
    Juice of 1/2 lemon

    Place the water in a small pan and heat to a boil. Lower the heat and stir in the Ginger and the Turmeric. Simmer for ten minutes, then strain the tea. Stir in the honey and lemon and serve.

    A little net surfing will find you lots of recipes. For example, i have just found Turmeric Icecream! http://cookbad.blogspot.com/2008/02/turmeric-ice-cream-or-semifreddo.html

    Also see this list. Substitute fresh for powder – use about twice as much.

    Or a salad dressing with turmeric. There is also a mango recipe linked into the post that you might like to try.

    Good luck. Let me know how you go.

  11. Thanks for this post, I’ve just managed to harvest some home-grown turmeric and have been looking for further information and recipes.

  12. Kun says:

    Your way of describing the whole thing in this post is truly nice, everyone be capable of simply understand it, Thanks a lot.

  13. Hello, I read your new stuff regularly. Your writing style is awesome, keep up thhe good work!

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